Executives from every major company around the world visit the Silicon Valley to experience for themselves what makes this region one of the most innovative hotspots in the world. So frequent are these visits that it is becoming a mainstream form of “business tourism.” It is not unusual that companies pay 20'000 Swiss Francs - per person - for a one-week experience. Of course, this is much more than a startup company can afford - especially if the founders are still students. The EXPLORE initiative changed this dynamic by supporting 20 students and entrepreneurs from the ETH Zurich and the University of St. Gallen in a trip to Silicon Valley. The trip gave students and new entrepreneurs a chance to visit startups and innovative companies in the San Francisco Bay Area, as well as, the opportunity to pitch in front of U.S. investors. Several companies and institutions, such as the ETH Zurich, made the trip possible through sponsorship and support.
The intensive program focused on visits to fifteen different organizations. Some of the highlights included an opportunity to pitch in front of Jordan Wahbeh, an investor from the Bay Angels investment group. He seemed positively surprised and offered to stay in touch with many of the participating startups. However, he expressed hesitation when it came to investing in European startups saying,
“Compared to Arabian or Asian startups, many European entrepreneurs are lacking the grit to work day and night to be successful. Because they don’t have to! If they fail, they can just get a well-paid job!”– Jordan Wahbeh, Bay Angels Investment Group
ETH Zurich students and other students and entrepreneurs on the trip felt this perspective seemed inaccurate. In fact, many participants worked through the night to improve on their pitches and presentations during the week-long trip. One participant, Philip Junker from RayShaper, a startup that enables real-time Virtual Reality live-streaming with perfect quality, commented, “Thanks to the EXPLORE trip, I have a better understanding of the benefits and differences of doing business in the U.S. I returned home with interesting connections and the knowledge of where to start, if I want to expand my business to the U.S.” Sacha Fuchs, another student entrepreneur, is developing Wia, an app for hospital patients that guides them through their recovery.
“EXPLORE really helped me to get a lot of feedback from seasoned investors but also from the other participants in a short time.”– Sacha Fuchs, Wia App
The trip was organized by the ETH Entrepreneur Club and START Global - the leading student startup initiatives in Switzerland. They organized the trip, because they believe that Switzerland is lacking the right mindset to scale startups to an international level. After the trip, some of the startups, such as Rebels - a location based Social Media app for students, are considering a move to the Valley. Rebels will launch in Los Angeles in August and bring Swiss technology to the world stage.
EXPLORE Silicon Valley was made possible with the generous support of the foundation Gebert Rüf Stiftung, the corporate partners BearingPoint, Oracle, Lionstep and Bertschi and the institutional partners ETH Zürich and SHSG Studentenschaft.
About the author
Alexander studies business and computer science at the University of Zürich. He is currently writing his master thesis about motion analysis of neuro disease patients at the Institute for Biomechanics at the ETH. Next to his studies, he runs a startup called VAY which develops an AI fitness coach, powered by a motion-sensing shirt. He volunteers in the ETH Entrepreneur Club, where he co-organized the EXPLORE Silicon Valley trip for students and entrepreneurs.